Maoist supremo Prachanda is known for histrionics and mercurial volatility. On the eve of Durga Puja, he has shocked opposition parties by proposing to reinstate the dissolved Constituent Assembly (CA) within a month of abandoning this option for consensual elections. But opposition parties should welcome this volte-face if they are serious about having early elections. 

Voters are the ultimate arbiters in democracy and elections are the means to express their will. Nepali voters elected CA in 2008 to write a new constitution. But their representatives failed not only to do that but also to amend the Interim Constitution (IC) to make room for fresh polls before CA died, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis. It is time for voters to express their will. They deserve an election that conforms to the law and due process, two indispensible prerequisites of democracy. 

Some politicians, lawyer and pundits have made two points against reinstating CA. First, it will be against the Supreme Court verdict. True. But amending IC through an ordinance will be a far more serious crime in the Court’s eye than restoring CA for a few days with the Court’s approval. Courts must put the constitution and due process above political agreement and convenience. Egyptian and Kuwaiti constitutional courts have shown it by nullifying democratic elections in their respective countries early this year. 

Second, an ordinance is better than resurrecting CA to amend IC. False. Amending IC through an ordinance is at best the panchayati way. In panchayat rule, oral instructions often overruled circulars, circulars negated rules, rules reversed laws, and laws upended the constitution. An ordinance can amend constitution only in dictatorship, where end justifies means, not in democracy where means must justify end. 

Opposition to CA restoration might have arisen in part by the frustration with the Maoists. The Maoists have seldom implemented their side of the bargain in a dozen or so agreements signed since 2005. Most of the time, they have come up with excuses for not implementing them or simply floated a new proposal citing a new situation. History calls for caution, not rejection. 

You must deal with your rivals as they are. Lies, obfuscations and maneuvering for advantage are integral to politics. George Orwell, the British author of the Animal Farm fame, has said, “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” 

Some politicians lie more than others because they are taught to do so. As communist prophet Vladimir Lenin has said, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Seriously, British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell has equated communism with such religions as Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. This makes Lenin, with due respect to him, a bona fide prophet. 

The hard truth is that the Maoists are already in the driving seat. They have money, muscle and motivation to prolong the constitutional crisis, which cannot be resolved without Maoist desire and agreement. So, even if Prachanda were making a tactical offer—be it for approval of the budget for the rest of the year, getting elected as executive president, cutting his rival and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai down to size or driving a wedge in the Nepali Congress Party—opposition parties should grab it, simply because they have no better option. 

Parliament often works as a direct deterrent to dictatorial designs. So, would-be dictators first dissolve it to acquire and consolidate power. For instance, King Mahendra did that in 1960 and King Gyanendra in 2002. In the neighborhood, Parvez Musarraf, Pakistani chief of the army, did the same in 1999 to rule Pakistan for several years. Girija Prasad Koirala understood it. Faced with powerful dictatorial competitors from left and right, he fought for the restoration of the scrapped parliament in People’s Movement II and retained the influence of democratic forces. Opposition parties forget this at their own peril. 

A resurrected CA will empower opposition parties to press the Maoist-led government either to promulgate a new constitution to elect a new parliament or to amend IC for another CA vote. They will be able to put pressure on the government to pave the way for a consensus government, ensure merit-based appointments to constitutional and government bodies, and set the date for the next election by consultation. 

But the irony is, while all parties pay lip service to them, in reality, the Maoists do not want elections at all and other major parties seem to want them only on their own terms. If the Maoists wanted the polls, they would not have walked away from the agreement on the name, nature and number of federal states at the last minute blocking the new constitution and would not have rejected then-Speaker Subas Nembang’s proposal to amend IC before CA’s demise. 

NC leaders want to lead election government and cite the five-point agreement, signed before CA was dissolved, as justification. They do not trust the Maoists for free and fair elections. The serious factional division and rise of regional and ethnic parties have dented NC’s strength and confidence. NC lacks a charismatic leader to unite the party, replenish the coffers and win the ballot. Its leaders hope government leadership will help them overcome these weaknesses. 

CPN-UML leaders share NC’s concerns about the Maoists and rise of regional and ethnic parties. In addition, they also hope that if Prime Minister Bhattarai resigns, one of them could be the next resident of Baluwatar Durbar owing to disagreement between the Maoists and NC, as twice before. Some of them also want to settle personal scores with the Maoists for pulling the rug from under their feet when they were in power. 

Unless the Maoists see it to their advantage, NC will be daydreaming about government leadership now. Prime Minister Bhattarai needs to fear only India, Prachanda, and the President. India will not hurt its darling boy unless he begins to disobey and spin out of control. Prachanda is the biggest the threat to Bhattarai. He could stab Bhattarai in the back at the first sign that he could occupy Baluwatar Durbar. 

Prachanda might have publicly initiated cutesy dialogue to reinstate CA and privately dangled the proverbial carrot of prime minister in front of NC top leaders—which is why they are going for each other’s jugular like fools—so he could switch to Baluwatar from the mansion he has promised to vacate under his party’s pressure. But he abandoned the bid and floated the idea of elections to buy time. He is back to CA restoration again hoping that he could revive his personal agenda from a different angle. 

NC seems to hope that the president will intervene and give Baluwatar Durbar on a silver platter to his mother party. Highly unlikely. Acutely aware of how King Gyanendra lost the crown and monarchy by rewarding Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and exercising direct power, the president will want to go down in history without disgrace or controversy. 

However, as custodian of the constitution, he will have to act if the Maoist-led government continues to maintain the status quo. When he does, the Maoists will translate their already issued threats of dire consequences into violent street protests, for which they have money, muscle and motivation. If they seek compromise, they will support UML for the top post. 

So, as the oldest democratic party of the country, NC has the biggest challenge. If it wants due process of law and early elections, it should agree to restore CA for a few days—with an automatic demise clause—to adopt the new constitution or amend IC. It must not instigate the President to act prematurely or flout IC and rule of law even for a good cause. One’s bad cause could be someone else’s good cause to use the Precedent.

Published on 2012-10-21 01:10:50

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